Joe Pasteris/The Ithacan

PETER SELIGMANN, LEFT, professor of physics, helps juniors Kristen Pullano, center, and Amanda Mowers during Introduction to Physics II, a course he taught in Spring 2002. Seligmann passed away Saturday from cancer.

College community pays tribute to professor

Wendi Dowst - Staff Writer

October 31, 2002

A passion for travel, good food, opera and art. An infectious smile, a creative mind, provocative opinions and a dedicated curiosity. This is what students, family, friends and faculty recalled when they shared their thoughts about Peter Seligmann, professor of physics.

Seligmann, age 60, died peacefully in his sleep at home Saturday. Services were held in Muller Chapel Monday afternoon.

Two of Seligmann’s cousins, Jane Gendron and Susan Nolte, and two physics professors, Charles Spencer and Aaron Saddoff, spoke at the funeral. Through the large windows in Muller Chapel, behind the speakers, brightly colored trees stood and fallen leaves scattered around the pond — symbolic of the somber ceremony.

Seligmann began teaching physics at Ithaca College in 1971. Evan Salmin, a senior physics major, said Seligmann taught his students more than physics.

“He taught us that physics wasn’t the end all and be all,” Salim said. “Life wasn’t necessarily about school.”

Salim said Seligmann began teaching him important lessons from the first time he met him. He was first introduced at freshman orientation.

“He told us we needed to be responsible for our own education because he wasn’t going to do it,” Salim said. “It was probably the best advice anyone ever gave us.”

Charles Spencer, professor of physics, worked with Seligmann for 30 years. When Spencer spoke at the funeral, he said Seligmann always had strong opinions, but he also had many wonderful ideas.

“He was sometimes strict, strident, but his ideas were always provocative,” Spencer said. “He was creative in solving problems.”

Spencer said one of the problems Seligmann solved was in the planning of the Center for Natural Sciences building. The plan did not leave enough room for the biology department. Seligmann suggested that they change the traditional placement of the departments in the building so they would be able to fit everyone’s needs.

“He challenged us with his provocative opinions,” Spencer said. “But he touched us all with his wonderful heart.”

Aaron Sadoff, retired physics professor, said Seligmann satisfied his intense curiosity by taking art history classes and traveling to Itlay with his wife, Carol. Seligmann was a docent at the Johnson art museum and served as a member of the City of Ithaca Board of Public Works.

Sadoff said that if Seligmann was not two weeks ahead of everyone else, he thought he was two weeks behind.

“Now we wouldn’t mind if he had been 20 years behind,” Sadoff said.

John Schwartz, associate professor of physics, knew Seligmann the entire time he taught at the college. Schwartz said when Seligmann first started teaching at the college, he played classic rock ’n’ roll in his office but more recently Schwartz would hear opera coming from his office.

“He had a wide range of intellectual interests, from physics to art history,” Schwartz said. “He taught both majors and nonmajors that they could do physics.”

Jamie DeGregory, a senior physics major, said Seligmann always made her speak up in class, both to hear her opinions and to literally hear what she said.

“He’d ask me what I’d said and move closer to my desk and ask me again and move closer until he was standing next to me,” DeGregory said.

She said Seligmann always seemed happy.

“Not only was he always smiling, but he always had a twinkle in his eye that seemed like a 5-year-old who had just stolen a lollipop,” she said.

Dan Briotta, physics department chairman, said Seligmann always enjoyed what he was doing at the moment.

“It was kind of infectious,” Briotta said. “He was our continuity. I was counting on him being around for many years.”

Seligmann served as chairman of the physics department from 1983 to 1993.

Howard Erlich, dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences, said Seligmann understood that community is extremely important and devoted enormous time, effort and energy to it.

“Because of this, he found himself in many leadership positions,” Erlich said. “He was selfless because he wanted to make this a better place. He was committed, and people recognized his clear thinking voice.”

Seligmann is survived by his wife, Carol; his daughters, Deborah and Laura; and his mother, Hilda.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions be directed to the Peter Seligmann Memorial Physics Award at Ithaca College or to Hospicare.